By: Ethan Rosenkranz
This week, the House of Representatives is considering its annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorizes more than $600 billion in national security spending and sets defense policies for Fiscal Year 2015.
The Project On Government Oversight and campaign partners spanning the ideological spectrum sent a letter to the House encouraging the adoption of smart, sensible amendments that will enhance the national security of the United States while savings billions of dollars in the process. You can add your voice to the conversation by writing your Representative here.
POGO and our partners are already encouraged that a few victories for fiscal responsibility are on the horizon. Two bipartisan amendments we support have been included in a package of amendments already approved by leadership. These “en bloc” amendments nearly always pass.
One is a bipartisan amendment by Representatives Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) and Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.) to put the brakes on the Pentagon’s slush fund—the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund, also known as the war funding account. The Pentagon and Congress have gotten into the regrettable habit of funding items that are completely unrelated to the war in Afghanistan. The Mulvaney-Murphy amendment will codify specific criteria for the use of OCO funds.
The other sensible amendment expected to pass would tackle the problem of star-creep in the top-heavy military. Representatives Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) are offering an amendment that would implement former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ efficiency initiative with respect to the top-heaviness of the military. Gates called for a reduction of four 4-star billets and ten three-star billets. However, since then, only one 4-star billet has been eliminated and only five 3-star billets.
We hope these commonsense victories will be followed by others. There are several additional amendments that still need support. You can click here to tell your member of Congress to vote the right way on the following amendments:
Representatives Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) propose eliminating funding for the refueling of the USS George Washington aircraft carrier—funding that the Navy did not request in either its formal budget request or in its unfunded priorities list. According to the Congressional Budget Office, this amendment would save the United States at least $7 billion.
The United States wastes billions of dollars developing missile defense platforms that are unproven and cannot perform reliably. Over the past five years, the United States has not conducted a single successful test of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) missile system, yet the Pentagon continues to request additional funding for the program. An amendment being offered by Representatives Polis and Jerold Nadler (D-N.Y.) would encourage the Secretary of Defense to conduct successful operationally realistic tests before purchasing additional GMD interceptors.
Another area of concern in the defense budget is spending on infrastructure projects in Afghanistan that have little oversight or accountability. Indeed, by the end of 2014, many U.S.-funded projects under construction in Afghanistan will be outside of the ability of the United States to provide direct civilian oversight. Representative Rick Nolan (D-Minn.) is offering a commonsense amendment that would require a review of any reconstruction project over $500,000 in Afghanistan that cannot be physically inspected by the United States.
While Congress continues to appropriate funds each year for construction projects in Afghanistan, shockingly, these programs have billions of dollars in unspent funds. Representatives Tim Wahlberg (R-Mich.) and Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) have sponsored a bipartisan amendment that would prohibit additional funding of the Afghanistan Infrastructure Fund until previously unobligated funds have been spent.
Keeping track of the money being spent by the Department of Defense can be a tricky task given that it is the only federal agency or department that is unable to pass a clean audit. An amendment being sponsored by Representatives Michael Burgess (R-Texas) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) would require the Pentagon to provide a progress update ranking all military departments and agencies in order of how close they are to achieving audit-readiness.
While POGO still has concerns with the overall NDAA bill under consideration, the adoption of these amendments will help reduce unnecessary spending and enhance America’s national security in meaningful ways. Again, we hope you will take the time to write your Representative and urge them to consider supporting these sensible amendments.